Red Hat Enterprise Linux celebrates 10 years of Enterprise Linux

Red Hat's Jim Totton speaks to Computerworld Australia about the past and future of RHEL.

While Red Hat might be one of the largest open source providers in the world, Jim Totton, vice president for the company’s platform business unit, is surprisingly coy about mistakes the company has made and learnt from in the decade since it launched.

Coming up to its 10-year anniversary in May, Totton is in Australia from the US to celebrate. However, discussing mistakes Red Hat has made over the years doesn’t appear to be on the agenda.

“You noticed I didn’t directly answer your question?” Totton laughs. Instead, he says the company has been keen to avoid mistakes it sees at other companies, such as the move into proprietary technology. The decision to stay in an open source environment has been one of the company's better decisions, he says.

“We’re using the open source community to really test and try out and develop and emerge the key technologies and then bring them into a hardened enterprise-worthy operating system product,” he says. “And it allows us not to make the mistakes that you’re asking about in a commercial sense. We get to do our innovation and our experimenting in an open source context.”

It is this ‘trial’ phase which has allowed Red Hat to release only ‘enterprise-ready’ products into the marketplace.

Max McLaren, regional vice president and general manager for Australia and New Zealand at Red Hat Asia Pacific, pitches in and says Red Hat has been trialling products in the open source community with its Fedora product for years. This allows it to get it "99.99 per cent right" before releasing it to the market, McLaren claims.

“Unlike proprietary software companies where they release a product that’s maybe 85, 90 per cent right and then a customer gets to fix that last 10, 15 per cent, what the open source model does is create a long, long tail of sometimes very small incremental advances in the technology, long before it actually gets to a commercial product,” he says. “That’s where we try it and iron out some of the challenges that most software companies face.”

Red Hat was originally founded in 1993 and went public with an IPO in 1999. Since then Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) platform was established in 2002, Totton says RHEL is now the second largest operating system in the world after Windows.

Over the past 10 years, Totton says the first real catalyst for change was the adoption by the hardware OEM community of RHEL on their X86-based servers.

“As the hardware platforms continued to grow with 64-bit computing, there was an opportunity for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, along with X86, to start serving some of the largest data centre workloads in a value proposition that significantly ... improved over expensive unit-based systems of the time,” he says.

“In the early part of the decade, it started to create a platform that could run some of the largest and most serious workloads, but at an economic advantage to what then was the Unix and the mainframe types of systems deployed in the marketplace.”

Totton says companies are fundamentally looking for IT applications and technology which will advantage or enhance their company, with X86 servers doing just that. Coupled with RHEL, Totton claims IT organisations are more effective and deliver more value to the business due to the economic opportunities the partnership provides.

“Through the years, the open source-based innovation model that we’ve led has allowed not only Red Hat’s R&D investment and innovation, but by participating in an open source innovation model, we collaborate together with many other companies in the industry to bring an amplified, if you would, set of innovations into the operating system space,” Totton says.

“This open model, we believe, has been advantaged over proprietary-type technologies and has allowed us, with our hardware partners, to serve the IT industry with innovation in an open source-based model.”

The open source model has allowed Red Hat to partner with key players in the hardware industry, such as Intel, AMD and OEMs to ensure its drivers are integrated into operating systems. This also gives the company a complete hardware and software solution and the ability to take advantage of both proprietary and open source technology.

“Innovating in an open source environment, but then taking that innovation into the marketplace – that’s how we’ve transformed the Fedora project,” he says.

Like the rest of the industry, Totton is witnessing a strong movement into the virtualised world and Cloud computing. He pictures this as three defined areas – the physical world, the virtual world and Cloud-based computing - and Totton says RHEL will sit on top of the operating system and provide processes for all three deployments.

“We already today work with a number of key Cloud providers and over the next two to five years I would expect to see that trend continue as Cloud computing becomes an integral part of the IT strategy landscape,” he says.

This will, however, pose challenges for the company, but Totton says it also provides opportunities. For example, it will allow the company to deliver an entire stack beyond just RHEL and offer a range of infrastructure solutions.

“Our opportunity is to take the evolution of the Cloud space and bring it into an environment where customers can find the same architectures and solutions from Red Hat in all three of these deployed environments,” he says.

While the evolution of technology has meant customers have become more demanding of their IT needs and reliability. However, Totton jokes that customers won’t necessarily become more demanding – “they are demanding,” he laughs.

“Of course, the IT organisation critically depends on running their business and what they look for is the reliability and quality of a robust set of infrastructure solutions ... to provide not only the technology but the ongoing support and solutions as they run their business,” he says.

Totton says while buzzwords often get overused, he believes the popularity of Big Data will continue to grow. In response to the growth of Big Data, Red Hat acquired open source storage software company Gluster in October last year for $136 million.

“The explosion of big data and the new paradigm of cloud computing are converging, forcing IT to re-think storage investments that are cost-effective, manageable and scale for the future,” Brian Stevens, CTO and vice president, worldwide engineering at Red Hat, said in a statement.

Totton says the acquisition gives users a scale-out and virtualised storage capabilities “which is perfectly matched to the Big Data opportunities that will be emerging as increasingly important over the next few years”.

Red Hat also released the Storage Software Appliance in December last year, its first integrated product that provides scale-out storage for unstructured data and builds upon GlusterFS 3.2 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1.

“In fact, three out of the four deployments of Big Data solutions today are based on open source technology and we see open source-based technology as really leading the architectures of important initiatives over the next two to five years,” Totton says.

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